Human Trafficking Victims Expanding Homeless Counts

By: Joe D’Amore – Feb. 2018

Homeless population counts are now underway nationally and throughout the state sponsored by HUD and state agencies tasked with the annual census process. The goal is to identify not only numbers of homeless people but also concentrations of them so that resources and affordable housing efforts can be aligned for them. This of course is the theory in the most general terms.

But homelessness in almost any community is virtually intractable with affordable housing being the single impact driver. Add to that other dynamics such as insufficient mental health resources, substance abuse and the inability of thousands of people to secure stable employment with sufficient incomes to sustain themselves; and the problem is beyond the scope of most communities to eradicate it.

A growing homeless sub set are alien victims of human trafficking. Quite literally, people are being forced into the shadows of our communities, living outdoors, living in homeless shelters and rotating throughout a network of them, or just staying at a friend or relatives home without formal occupancy status just so they can stay invisible.

There are several forms of human trafficking : Notably, victims of sexual , domestic and even employment servitude are controlled by criminals who perpetually promote the threat of reporting an undocumented alien if they breach their confidence. Add to this sexual assault and domestic violence victims and conditions are ripe for people to run away and hide somewhere.

The national headlines don’t help to alleviate the problem.

With the current administration’s surge in aggressive enforcement of inadequate immigration laws, the confrontational stances of local communities and federal agencies over sanctuary status and local police departments in an influx of what their role should be, flight of frightened people is increasing. This social disorganization is creating an invisible population.

A degree of relief though is remarkably available from The US Department of Homeland Security . Victims can often be the only gateway to identify and apprehend perpetrators of horrendous human trafficking crimes. The DHS recognizes that encouraging victims to come forward and support them with social services for safety, stability and eventual recovery is a critical component to conducting a successful investigation and prosecuting criminals.

Victims also have rights even if they are complicit in illegal activity such as forced or voluntary entry into the country. Victim Centered Resources are administered regionally by HSI ( Homeland Security Investigation) representatives. The DHS has numerous hotlines for information and also safe crime-tipping. This creates a marvelous opportunity for advocates, social workers, teachers, faith-based organizations and non-government/ non -profit agencies to “broker” terms between victims and federal agencies.

The DHS has an Immigration Relief program that specifically aims to stabilize foreign national victims of crime through a program called ; The Blue Campaign.

These are the basic types of immigration relief 1) Continued Presence ( CP ) which is a form of relief where deportation is stayed if an eligible victim is part of an active investigation of a crime initiated by local police departments.
2) T or U Nonimmigrant Status also known as T or U Visa: These are longer term arrangements for waiver of deportation. T Visas are based in human trafficking and V Visas are based in a variety of domestic abuses , offenses and related serious crimes.

3) Public benefits are available to T and U Visa holders and in particular minor victims ( under 18 ) are eligible for federal emergency resources.

4) Declaration or Certification by Law Enforcement. Local law enforcement agencies play a leading role in verifying victim status and declaring a victim eligible for protections.

Attorneys and he afore-mentioned social organizations have an opportunity to assist victims by not only assisting with application forms but also building a bridge of communication with local police. In doing so many individuals will be placed on pathways to emerge from the shadows. In fact, many T and U Visa holders eventually gain citizenship. The process is often initially tenuous but it must always start with a trusted relationship somewhere; a church volunteer, Pro -Bono- oriented attorney, social worker , even a teacher paying attention to clues of distress in a student. Working with local police who are interested in helping victims can open up doors for stabilization.

In the end, homeless population counts can begin subtracting victims of human trafficking and the ultimate goal which is set by the Department of Homeland Security – of making our communities safer -can be realized. If we tune out the contentious noise in the media and pay attention we can all contribute to addressing serious societal problems in constructive ways.
Please seek more information through: & HSI Tipline: 1-866-347-2423

Joe D’Amore is a homeless advocate and founder of Merrimack Valley Hope Mission

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